Thursday, March 10, 2011

The Search for a Definition

Sometimes I wonder what “the end” really means. Because there’s always more that follows. The end of a game means a final score, but that’s not the last time that team will ever be together or that sport will ever be played. The end of the day means you go to bed, but sleep is the gateway to a whole other world of dreams and subconsciousness. And then there’s the end of life. Death. I don’t want to get into a whole discourse on the afterlife here but let’s just say for now that when one dies, the body or soul goes somewhere—it gets buried or cremated, maybe the soul goes on to a different place, maybe it stays here on earth as a ghost. Everyone holds a different view what really is the end. But what does unquestionably continue is other life in the rest of the world. The birds still chirp, the tides come in and out, businessmen go to work at 8 and come home at 5. The same is true for families and friends who are left behind after the death of a relative: when a loved one dies, of course a huge gap will be left behind in their lives, but the truth is that their lives will still continue. Life goes on.

The death of one of my patients, Lalli James, is what got me to thinking about this. Lalli was a sweet, old man with HIV who lived in Kwanokuthula. When we visited him, he always smiled as he greeted us. But when we walked into his house yesterday, I was surprised to find his bed, one of the only pieces of furniture in the house, gone. I thought the family had sold it to get some much-needed cash, but before I turned to Lauren to mention my hypothesis, a woman spoke up, “He has died.” On Saturday, Lalli was talking and acting normally when he went to lie down and never got up. The woman, who turned out to be his niece, told us that they weren’t concerned because he seemed to be doing fine. And then he was gone.

The family seemed to be handling the scenario with touching fortitude. Lalli’s niece told us that she believes he died in peace; that maybe it was just his time to go. As she said this, her eyes filled with tears.

The funeral is next Saturday, as there is already another one being held this Saturday. Thus prolonging the burial that, for many, really signifies “the end.” But this tribulation may never end for the family. Of course, Lalli’s memory will stay with them forever.

And the family’s dealings with sickness and medicine won’t end with Lalli’s death either. The girlfriend of another man living in that same house has not been doing well lately. But the family can’t take her to the clinic now because they have so much going on with the recent misfortune. They’ll have to wait until the burial is over. But by that time, who knows what could have happened. So the cycle continues. The end is never really the end.

I keep trying to think of what can be done. When a family is taking care of a relative with HIV or AIDS, there is so much pain and hardship that they must face. It just seems unjust and unfair that their suffering is perpetuated even after the sorrowful death.

Lalli is one in a sea of hundreds of thousands. So many people die from HIV/AIDS related illnesses everyday. But if “the end” doesn’t really mean anything, if there’s something that always continues, what does finding an “end” to this horrible epidemic entail? Is it even possible?

I don’t like to be so pessimistic. And I don’t want to be. I really would like to believe that some cure, some relief, SOMETHING can be done to solve or alleviate this issue. But it’s so hard for me to envision at this stage.

I really think that prevention , awareness, and education are going to be the most important methods, at this point, in curbing the rampant spread of the epidemic. While treatment is obviously extremely important, the hope for future generations lies in the destigmatization of the disease as well as the true understanding of the science and implications of HIV/AIDS. If people are well aware of the importance of prevention, and understand prevention methods, the number of new infections could decline, and overtime, maybe—just maybe—be stopped altogether. Let’s hope so.

Anyway, on a completely different note, we started afternoon service projects last week. I’m working on clearing out an old, dead garden in preparation for a new one to be put in. It requires lots of weeding and hacking and shoveling in the hot sun, but I feel like I accomplish something when I look at everything we’ve cleared out. Two afternoons a week we head over to the garden after mornings with our caregivers, putting our total amount of work on Tuesdays and Thursdays to seven hours. We may be living in a beach town, but we’re not exactly on vacation.

Our caregiver, Priscilla, went on leave today and won’t be back to work until after we’re finished. So instead, we’re following another caregiver named Helper, who has been working with us the past two weeks. We’ll miss Priscilla! It’s strange to think that after tomorrow, we have only one week of work left. By this point, I’ve seen all of our 27 (according to Priscilla) patients at least once, and am getting better at knowing my way around the houses and streets. So at least I don’t feel so disoriented all the time… I enjoy the conversations I’ve had with Priscilla and Helper on our walks and sometimes we’re offered tea or snacks at the homes we visit. I recently got to try some mealie meal pap—porridge made of corn meal and mixed with milk. Mealie meal is a staple food here, eaten as a sweet dish, as I had it, or a savory dish, mixed with vegetables and meat. I’ll have to get some to bring home—I actually liked it a lot. In almost every home we visit there’s some sort of music playing. Helper always tells me to dance, so I do. And then people laugh. So I have a new resolution to work on my dancing skills.

I guess that’s enough for now. I hope everyone is doing well!


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